Vibrant Matter – Chapter 4

06Jun10

Outline

After using a bit of Kafka Bennett begins to discuss how life fits in between the organic and the inorganic registers of existence. Bennett states that life is a “biological category” but one with traditionally humanist characteristics such as “the capacity for emotion, sociality, and reflection” (52).

While animals are surely capable of these functions (though their capacity for the last of the three would require some serious clarifying) Bennett questions how far the category of life can be taken away from the organic.

Bennett then goes on to discuss Deleuze and in particular his essay Immanence: A Life. Life as immanence represents life as a current or stream of happenings that belong to singularites. Bennett amends Deleuze’s joyful life as a (possible) cascade of terrors. Bennett defines life as activity but this activity has an ultimately virtual source naming Nietzsche as an ally (54).

Bennett shows how an overly hylomorphic model of thinking such activity cannot explain forms and that vitalism makes matter and or bodies into passive entities. According to Bennett D and G create a materiality that is a life, a life that is vibrantly heterogeneous (57) which is then connected to Foucault’s incorporeality. Directly broaching the topic of metal Bennett discusses how the vacancies between particles and in materials are as important as the solid components of materiality itself.

Bennett outlines a project of geoaffect or material vitality in order to combat both biocentrism and anthrocentrism via an irrational love of matter or through Perinola’s sex appeal of the inorganic. For Bennett Materiality is the vital principle.

Response

As mentioned in my previous post, my concern with much of Bennett’s work is the humanist traces that remain in her critique as well as the ecological approach as overly horizontal. At the end of the chapter when Bennett invokes Perinola, affect, and Deleuze and Guattari thought becomes a supplement that might be unclassifiable as either material or vital. D and G’s plane of immanence (or thinkable virtuality) seems to move towards an ontologization of thinking which problematizes both vitality and materiality.

While Bennett’s attack on biocentrism and anthrocentrism is warranted, if life is equated with vitality the capacities of the biological seem to get lost. The biological is a difference that shouldn’t be taken as a form of ontological superiority but as a stratification of materiality and fundamental forces. There is a difference between life as biological and life as a humanist category (which is also biological). A life (in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense) would seem to erase the material (if not ontological) difference between a hunk of metal and a cluster of bees which creates a poverty of temporal-spatial organizational difference.

Bennett’s horizontal approach (like Timothy Morton’s) has some problematic conclusions as certain differences are erased differences which are often seen as strictly humanistic or privileging human beings. But such a view would necessitate forms being either purely ideal, God given, or otherwise unnatural. Materiality as self activating, in D and G’s sense, utilizes a noetic supplement which is far more humanistic than it appears. How this plays out in relation to vitalism vs materialism will be discussed in the next chapter.

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4 Responses to “Vibrant Matter – Chapter 4”

  1. 1 captain furious

    I too have worries about the traces of humanist thinking in her work, particularly her comment in the Intro that the book is intended to promote the welfare of human beings. Fair enough, but that seems to regroup the notion of vitality within human life, a way of ultimately foreclosing the type of vitality of inorganic life she seeks to promote. And I think you are right about the horizontlism here. Everything becomes flat and differences get erased. At least on the surface as those differences seem reaffirmed at various points as the book goes along. There seems to me a need for a deeper theoretical consideration in the first five chapters under discussion. Things tend to get drawn together rather quickly into heterogenous complexes and mobilized as proof of vital matter. it’s not always clear to me how such a move can be made without a clearer development of how this ontological flattening works.

  2. Hi Ben – I appreciate and agree with your comments about the importance of recognizing (temporal-spatial organizational) differences between the biological (e.g. bees) and the purely physical/material (e.g. metal).

    I’m wondering what you have in mind, though, when you say that “Materiality as self activating, in D and G’s sense, utilizes a noetic supplement which is far more humanistic than it appears.” I can make some guesses, but if you’d care to expand on it at some point (even with a reference to something that makes that case), that’d be great.

    Thanks for taking on the hosting this week. I’ve posted a longer set of comments here.

    Cheers,
    Adrian


  1. 1 Woodward on Bennett « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR
  2. 2 Bennett Reading Group « PHILOSOPHY IN A TIME OF ERROR

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